The Galápagos Islands are on the hot list for family travel because they enthrall kids with unique wildlife and immerse them in a living classroom that feels nothing like school. The good news for families is that the Galápagos Islands are a year-round destination and work well for a spring break, holiday or summer vacation.
We asked Julia Nesbitt from Small Ship Safaris, a division of African Safari Company, to answer a few commonly asked questions that we receive from clients considering a trip to the Galápagos Islands. Julia helped Kristi plan her Galápagos family vacation on the Eclipse ship.
Galápagos Family Vacation Tips
1. When is the best time of year to visit the Galápagos?
The Galápagos is good destination all year round. May and June may be the most ideal months.
> From December to June we have the rain season and the temperatures range goes from 25°C to 32°C (77°F to 90°F). During this season, warm waters from the Panama Basin flow through the Galápagos, producing a sea temperature of 20°C to 27°C (68°F to 80°F). During the warm season, the average sea and air temperature rises to 77 °F and there is usually no wind at all. There are sporadic, though strong, rains and the sun shines.
> From July to November we have the dry season however it can be windy and foggy and the temperatures range goes from 20°C to 27°C (68°F to 80°F). During this season, cooler waters from the Humboldt Current are driven to the islands, causing the water temperature to drop
2. When is the best time of year for snorkeling?
Water is warmest December to June, more calm and visibility is better. Water is colder July to November with decreased visibility but there is an opportunity to see more ocean wildlife due to better food supply.
There is always the opportunity to wear a wet suit and snorkel all year long.
3. How far in advance do guests need to book a cruise?
We recommend 6 months to a year in advance, but it really depends of the season. Christmas, New Years, Spring Break and Easter are peak season so it’s better to book even more than a year in advance (if possible!). For summer holidays (July-August) 6 months or more is best.
4. What are the main differences between the cruise companies if they all follow specific government mandated itineraries?
Size of the vessel and the type of people (nationalities, photography buffs etc) that book the boats are the biggest differentials. All cruise companies have to follow the Galápagos National Park regulations, no matter which class of service they offer so it’s all about the on-board amenities. There is no real luxury option in the Galápagos. All companies offer expedition cruises and passengers must be prepared for strict schedules, excursions and activities accompanied by a naturalist guide. I would say the Eclipse and the Althala II are some of the higher-end boats in terms of accommodation and service.
5. What are the best islands to visit?
It really depends on the interest of the passenger. Each island has something different to offer. According to the regulations, all yachts have to follow a 15 day itinerary, meaning that they will operate 15 days without repeating the same places of visit (the protected areas) and then they will repeat the same islands again for 15 days. What most operators do is follow 15 days but each 4 or 5 days they go back to port or to one of the airports to pick up/drop off passengers, offering short cruises. Our favorite islands to visit are Genovesa, Española, Isabela and Fernandina. These islands are far from the populated islands and you have to navigate long distances, only longer cruises can visit them, this is why we always recommend to take at least a 5 night / 6 day cruise. In fewer days, you won’t be able to go to these places due to the distances.
6. Will I get seasick?
From December to June water is calmer (rainy season) and from July to November (dry season) the sea will be more choppy. If you are prone to seasickness, we also recommend choosing a bigger boat and a lower cabin. Cabins located in the upper part of the boats will move more.
Want Help Planning a Family Vacation to the Galapagos Islands?
Our team of experts has been there with kids and can help. Request assistance here >
In addition to Julia Nesbitt’s extensive African travel experience, Julia has visited Peru, the Bahamas, Morocco, Mexico, Jamaica and the Galapagos Islands. Her dream small ship safari is traveling to the far north to see Polar Bears and embarking on an extensive penguin expedition to South Africa, New Zealand AND Patagonia! Julia’s experience in creating custom adventures is a great asset in pairing travelers with the best small ship cruise for their budget and travel style.
Editor’s Note: Photo by Amie O’Shaughnessy